Sunday, July 23, 2006

The IDF's public relations tactics: how to alienate friends and shoot yourself in the foot

How not to wage this war - right: Israeli children write graffiti on IDF shells

Here's an excellent critique of Israel's missteps in the public relations battle with Hizbullah, written by my friend Uri and edited by his significant other, Tamar, as well as myself.

It is plain to see that the IDF has tactical and military superiority over Hizbullah. Nasrallah is even more aware of it than the Israelis are. In fact, warfare does not take place in the battlefield, using tanks and aircraft, but in the public sphere, where the masses are affected by the media, be it via sound, photographs or videos. In this struggle, achievements are not necessarily measured by actual damage inflicted on each side, but by transforming this damage to catchy simplistic slogans, which can be disseminated quickly to its designated audience.

Since terror leaders are aware of their military inferiority, they ascribe pivotal importance to public affairs and propaganda. This phenomenon can be recognized in almost any Jihad arena. Thus, any “respected” organization runs a professional information desk, which produces audio and video tapes, operates internet sites and forums and of course provides radio and television broadcasting to anyone ready to receive it. Hizbullah for example operates a few internet sites, and runs radio and T.V stations (“Nur” and “Al-Manar” respectively).

When examining records of speeches made by terror leaders it becomes clear that it is frequently directed at the western audience (and the Israelis in Hizbullah’s case). Appeals to this audience aimed at demoralizing civilians and their leadership as well as sowing dissension between them. Much like Ayman Al-Zawahiri who frequently addresses British and American citizens in his speeches, Nasrallah, unfortunately manages to effectively unnerve the Israeli audience. Nasrallah, to some extent, is even admired, rather irrationally, by his Israeli viewers.

Leaders of global Jihad aspire to accomplish their achievements by broadcasting propaganda campaigns to the civilian populations of “crusader states”. Likewise, Nasrallah, by addressing the “Zionist” community, attempts to affect Israeli governmental policy using the public sphere.

Therefore, it is essential to understand that tanks and aircraft, as modern and effective as they might be, will not win this war because the struggle will not end by total destruction of the other side. On the contrary, the “real” points are those obtained in the public affairs’ battlefield (which can be naturally divided to three groups: the Israeli public sphere; the Arab one; and the western-international).

Even if we assume that Israel can effortlessly attain the support (and understanding) of its citizens on the home front, there is no denying the difficulties it faces in the international and Arab public arena. Thus, if the first days of the Israeli operation in Lebanon were accepted by the western world and the international community (and even by great parts of the Arab world) with full understanding, and strict condemnation of Hizbullah for its “adventurous behavior”, now, with every hour that passes, Israel is increasingly being condemned and accused of committing crimes against humanity. The world’s view of Hizbullah clearly remained unchanged from a week ago. But there is a difference - the vast destruction and injuries caused by Hizbullah on the Israeli home front receive less airtime as opposed to the more sensational Beirut bombings. Consequently, Hizbullah is now less condemned, and in the long term, when considering “the day after” the military campaign, Hizbullah will be the first to enjoy its achievements, not within the battlefield itself, but in its vast, well conducted, media production.

To sum up: Israel must first of all realize that failure within the public affairs arena can result in political defeat, regardless of the results of the military campaign. Thus, Israeli official speakers, and in particular army generals, must be professional, eloquent and fluent when making their appearances in the media. At least for now, as one can gather, this is not the case: the generals are hardly capable of saying a single sentence without reading it, and the political leaders (especially Olmert and Peretz), lack confidence, experience and charisma (I cannot recall other Israeli leaders that match their poor performance). Second, while we cannot prevent the media from publishing photographs of bombed out Lebanese neighborhoods, Israel owes it to itself to do everything in its power to control the visual content that it releases to the media, especially the foreign networks. Failures in the battle for public opinion must be viewed with the same gravity as military setbacks. The recent release to the foreign media of photographs of Israeli children “decorating” IDF artillery shells is no less deplorable than the intelligence failure that resulted in the near-sinking of the Israeli naval warship off the coast of Beirut. Pictures of this nature serve as a welcome weapon in the arsenals of hostile bloggers Hizbullah’s propagandists, by devastating Israel’s image abroad. What the IDF was thinking when it permitted these children on the grounds of a closed military base, and why the IDF Spokesperson authorized the release of these scandalous photographs is beyond comprehension. For now, Hizbullah can chalk up another victory on the narrative-building battlefield. In the long run, it is clumsy displays of IDF incompetence in the public relations battle of this sort that will allow Hizbullah to emerge victorious, regardless of the warfare’s actual outcome.


Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Many apologists of the Bushmert regime have pumped up their shameless propaganda campaign in the airwaves and on the internet since the start of Israel’s war of aggression on Lebanon.

One of their main arguments is that “Israel is sincerely sorry for the civilian deaths” that occur only because, for the sake of self-defense, its otherwise compassionate soldiers have to target “Hezbollah positions which are located intentionally within populated towns” [sic]

But that’s simply just another easily debunk-able lie churned out by Israel’s collaborationist amen corner in the US…and in Saudi-Arabia- the Wahhabi Islamist regime of Riyadh having sided squarely with Israel while Lebanon is being razed by the IDF.

The reason why this is a lie is quite straightforward: Lebanon is a mountainous nation made of relatively homogeneous/isolated population clusters, neatly separated by valleys, rivers, canyons…etc.

For the sake of argument, assuming that all of Lebanon’s Shiites are “pro-Hezbollah” (which in itself is a gross oversimplification), some of whom might gladly give shelter to pro-Iranian revolutionaries, well the ONLY parts of the country where you can find Shiites be they “civilian sympathizers” or Hezbollah guerillas are the following:
- South/South-East
- North East
- West Beirut’s suburbs (known as “Al Dahiyeh” in Arabic)

The truth is that more than a third of towns and villages targeted by the Israeli Air Force are actually located in exclusively Christian areas - Yahweh’s glorious army made a point of bombing both Roman Catholic and Byzantine Orthodox areas, thus proving its attachment to the development of Christian ecumenism!

This is the reason why, after having remained silent for more than a week, the generally “pro-Western” Council of Lebanese Bishops (no fans of Hezbollah as you can imagine) issued a strong statement condemning both Israel and America’s support for Israel’s savage war of aggression.

My blogging friend Sophie has a superb post on the duplicity of Israel’s self-righteous amen corner in Washington, New York and Paris, always prompt to condemn what they call “Islamo-Fascism”…except of course when Saudi Arabia’s religious thugs side with Israel’s glorious army!

“And I am sure that all Islam bashers, from Daniel Pipes to Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie, Irshad Manji, Henri-Lévy, Alain Finkielkraut and the secularist fanatic European and American left wouldn’t notice this fatwa, make official declarations about it and organise petition signatures against it”

Now that’s THE main issue at play here.

And “all the rest is commentary” as a leading Israeli sophist famously said!

Anonymous said...

Disagree, John. Rhetoric is just that. It decides nothing. Wars are won and lost on the battlefield. Nobody loved Israel before and nobody was going to love them if they conducted this war any differently...

Likes Clouds in Israel said...

About those pics of those girls writing on the artillery shells

"It seems the parents, and not the photographers, were encouraging the children to draw flags and doodles on the shells, not messages, which were written by the parents . But, as she says, the presence of twelve photographers all eager to take shots, no doubt contributed significantly to the fact that it happened.

And how did the twelve photographers get to be there in the first place? Was it parents or photographers who made the encouraging remarks about "your cousins in America will see you?""

Anonymous said...

"Wars are won and lost on the battlefield."

The Vietnam war proved that this is just not true -- and not even the Vietnamese generals disputed that. I agree that world opinion would be against Israel anyway but I agree with John, and am very disturbed by stupidity that Israel has shown (for years) in the PR war. Fatah, Hamas and Hizbollah have high dollar American PR firms that work the western press very very effectively (I think that partly explains the ravings of leftists like Victorino). They also work in concert with anti-Israel "human rights" (leftist) groups who put propaganda out that finds it way into the western media.

Anonymous said...

"Fatah, Hamas and Hizbollah have high dollar American PR firms"

And Israel doesn't?
It has the US congress and a seemingly infinate pot of money to draw from.

Anonymous said...

"And Israel doesn't? It has the US congress and a seemingly infinate pot of money to draw from."

Infinite? That is the storyline that comes from those who do not support Israel. We are repeatedly told how the US Congress is bought out by the Pro-Israel lobby. Fact: They support Israel because Americans support Israel, not because of the Pro-Israel lobby. I know some will be very disturbed by the thought of that. But it's pretty obvious that Israelis and Americans (as a rule) share more values than they do with terrorists and genocidal fanatics.

"And Israel doesn't?"

No. And if they did they should have been fired 30 years ago. That's a fact obvious to all but those who hate Israelis and Americans.

Anonymous said...


Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to Washington was on Fox News' Bill O'Reilly show just a little while ago and Ambassador Ayalon acknowledged the importance of public opinion. He spoke about the protests against Israel that have occurred. He also said that Israel would do what it has to do. Just thought his comments -- agreeing with the opening point of this post -- were interesting.

Anonymous said...

de pe vega said, "The truth is that more than a third of towns and villages targeted by the Israeli Air Force are actually located in exclusively Christian areas"

Dr. Conspiracy: Not that I trust your math, but even if it was "more than a third", you don't cite and don't have a clue as to what targets were hit within those areas. Israel has made no secret that Lebanon's infrastructure is a target, because it also services military (including Hezbollah) aims. You cite (offering no proof) a few "facts", are obviously clueless as to the details, but that doesn't stop you from extrapolating a big conclusion: that Israel is bombing Christians just for the hell of it. Perhaps remedial college is in order?

Anonymous said...

The IDF lacks PR professionals
The IDF PR machine has no excuse for being negligent. Unlike the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister's Office, the IDF can call up PR professionals. But it does not. The IDF PR reserve unit consists of academics, not PR professionals with years of practical Madison Ave experience. PR professionals such as Charley Levine and Joel Leyden have been side lined while academics such as Dr. Michael Cohen take the field. The IDF needs Dr.s in the medical corp not in PR. And who oversees this circus of errors, Gen. Miri Regev who does not speak a word of English!

John said...

Thanks for the inside gripe. Do you not see any role whatsoever for academics in PR, though? I guess have my biases as an academic, myself, but I have to agree that PR is not something that academics really excel in. If you ever come back, please explain to us how Regev got her job.